It is generally the Chinese who have been the most adept at the practice of consistently stating something detrimental to the interest of its adversaries often enough so that over a period of several years it almost becomes a settled proposition for its victim. India has had plenty of experience in dealing with China in this regard. Therefore it remains inexplicable as to how it fell for the Pakistani claim, supported largely by the US and the UK that Afghanistan has to remain under the tutelage of Pakistan to safeguard Pakistan ’s strategic interest. This canard took shape during the halcyon days of Pakistan-US collaboration to oust the Russians from Afghanistan . Even after the departure of the US from the arena the West continued to go along with Pakistan on this issue, more by default than by design. And so it continued in spite of 9/11 and the sequence of events that followed.
Now when the Americans seem to have decided on a pullout from Afghanistan by 2014, there remain significant lobbies in the US and UK that continue to maintain that Pakistan’s interest remains paramount in Afghanistan and needs to be respected post-2014. The very absurdity of this line of thinking has remained unchallenged even in India to the extent that it continues to be tentative in safeguarding its own strategic interest in Afghanistan .
The basic premise of this approach fails to take into account the extreme fallacy of Pakistani claims of strategic depth with implied overlordship over successor governments in Kabul . It is understandable that close Pakistan allies like China , Turkey and Saudi Arabia would back Pakistan to the hilt in taking control over Afghan affairs. For the West not to have shaken it off after the second resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan is if anything suicidal reasoning. Afghanistan under Pakistani control or tutelage with the Taliban in the ascendant would be a far more formidable threat to USA , the West, Central Asia, Russia and India than was the case prior to 9/11. This time around an US-NATO pullout from Afghanistan manifestly reeling under mounting losses from Pakistan military-abetted Taliban and Jihadi networks would probably be the last time in this century that any Western force would dare set foot again in the region, irrespective of a repeat of 9/11 on Western soil or even a greater provocation resulting from nuclear type of assault from Pakistan-based non-state actors.
Once the pullout is completed neither the public in the West nor their economic condition would allow for another show of force. Left under the domination of Pakistan the new Taliban-type dispensation, this time backed by the enormously expanded nuclear and missile arsenal of Pakistan, could easily become one of the most formidable players, able to take on any and all-comers once they have consolidated their hold on Afghanistan and the Af-Pak region. At that stage it would be anybody’s guess as to whether the Pakistan military would be calling the shots or whether the extremist elements would be the ones dictating policy. In either case the increased threat would remain.
During all these years when talking of Pakistan ’s strategic interest in Afghanistan nobody seems to have spoken even peripherally that Afghanistan might have existential interests of its own, well away from dominance by any outside power. This is where India comes in. Of all the interested parties it has the least ability or for that matter inclination to interfere in Afghan affairs. Based on past record it enjoys the respect of the majority of Afghan people. A strategic opening has come its way out of the blue. It has resulted from the belated realization in Washington that the Pakistan Army-ISI combine have been playing the Americans for suckers (to use a well-worn American cliché) and that the US government has been filling the coffers of the Pakistan military solely to enable them so it would seem to kill American soldiers and those of its allies. It was the killing of Osama Bin Laden from a compound close to the Military Academy in Abbottabad that convinced the American public that the Washington Establishment and its think tanks had allowed themselves to be comprehensively befooled by their trusted ‘major non-NATO ally’. The revelation that should not have come as a surprise has finally allowed the US to pull away from its trusted ally after the mounting ills that have befallen their soldiers in Afghanistan . The second event that obliged the Karzai government to invite India to help maintain post-2014 independence was the killing of the former President Rabbani. Like the killing of Ahmed Shah Masood ten years ago this killing too is unlikely to have taken place without the full backing or at least the tacit support of the Pakistan military–ISI combine.
The Afghans are bound to be happy that it is India rather than any other country that is being invited to help Afghanistan to retain their independence once the Americans departs. It is the only country in the region that is militarily non-threatening. It is the only country in the region that, except for Pakistan and China , would be viewed with general goodwill by all other neighbours of Afghanistan , especially in Central Asia . The latter would be the most worried from a Pakistani-controlled dispensation. Further, it is the only country that the US, the European Union, Russia and Iran would view with favor for taking up the slack in the strategic vacuum that could prevail for several years after the US departure; till the time that an Afghan government fully backed by a strengthened, cohesive and professional Afghan national army is able to take its destiny in its own hands.
Neither the rest of the world, especially USA and the West, nor India could have foreseen the fortuitous development caused largely by Pakistan ’s duplicity and the tragic events that followed. The Afghan nation and all countries interested in seeing an independent Afghanistan would be unstinting in their support to India were it to step in and meet its obligations to develop and strengthen Afghan independence and neutrality. Should India go about its assigned role with determination and vigor without self-doubt about its capability, it would have become the instrument for peace and prosperity in the region. Strange as it may sound, it would have in the process added immensely to the security of Central Asia, Russia and Pakistan itself, besides its own security. Finally the biggest beneficiary would be SAARC. The ball is fairly and squarely in India ’s court. It has to convince itself and the world that it has emerged a deft player. Success in this task that it has decided to shoulder would automatically make it a very strong contender for a permanent Security Council seat.
October 11, 2011